Thomas Cook collapse – the demise of the travel agent?

08 October 2019 | Katie Smith
Last month saw the collapse of the world’s longest-running travel agent, Thomas Cook, which ceased trading after 178 years, leaving 150,000 UK holidaymakers stranded abroad and putting 9,000 British jobs at risk. Whilst arguably the most publicised case, Thomas Cook isn’t the first travel company to suffer under the strain of today’s changing economy. Recent statistics show that in fact a quarter of Britain’s travel agents have closed over the past seven years, with around 1,170 travel agents shutting stores since 2012. This has raised many questions about the future of the travel industry and the fate of travel agents.

The travel industry itself is booming and is the fastest growing sector in the UK, ahead of financial services and banking. So why exactly are travel agents struggling?

No doubt the uncertainty of Brexit has played a huge part in causing many UK consumers to delay their holiday plans, and the decline in the pound - widely considered a side effect of the Brexit process - has also made holidays more financially daunting and difficult to commit to. In addition, the rise of cheap flights and the internet making it easier for consumers to make their own price comparisons and to book directly for better rates has meant a step away from travel agents and the package holiday. Arguably though one of the biggest factors could be the rise of social media and influencer marketing. There’s no doubt that the ‘gram has a huge influence on the purchasing decisions of its users. According to reports, 75% of people say that they’ve bought clothes or beauty products based on something they’ve seen on Instagram, and this is now spilling over into travel with user generated content becoming a popular source of inspiration for modern travel. Consumers no longer have to rely on guidebooks or industry experts such as travel agents for holiday advice. Social media and travel blogs provide instantaneous access to relevant tips and, often, crowd-sourced information and has ultimately changed the way consumers approach planning a holiday – from inspiration all the way through to booking.

That being said, there is definitely still a demand for travel agents and so many reasons why booking in this way is beneficial:

Time and money saving – Looking online for a holiday can be very time consuming, from hours spent deciding where to go, researching what there is to do in the area, finding flights and a safe hotel, to booking transfers and excursions. Travel agents do the work for you, taking care of every aspect of your trip. They can craft your itinerary and personalise your experience by putting their knowledge, contacts and own experiences to work. In addition, agents often have access to lower pricing as well as special perks and benefits that can save you money while at the same time enhancing the quality of your trip.

24/7 assistance – Using a travel agent provides you with unparalleled peace of mind as agents are available to assist customers before, during and after their trip. In the event that something goes wrong, whether that be a flight cancellation or misunderstanding at the hotel, your agent will always be on hand to help so you can travel confidently knowing you won’t ever find yourself in any trouble

Travel recommendations - Travel agents are extremely knowledgeable because they are travel experts. In addition to being well-informed about destinations around the globe and having visited many themselves, agents can offer travel tips to help you along the way, whether revealing airport hacks or the best off-the-beaten-path restaurants in your destination

Security - A lot of online travel deals can appear too good to be true and many are. Working with a travel agent ensures that you won't be the victim of a scam or deceived in any way. Booking with a travel agent also usually ensures that your holiday is ATOL protected, meaning you won’t lose money or become stranded abroad if your travel company ceases trading before or during your holiday

So whilst booking through a travel agent may seem outdated to some, there is definitely still demand for the service particularly amongst those with busy schedules and who favour convenience. Although Thomas Cook has had to close its doors, other travel agencies are making strides adapting their business models to reflect changing times and evolving its services to stay relevant to today’s consumer.